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When the topic is secular, such as football, politics, or similar, such as at a shabbat meal, do people have any tips about how to bring it back in a pleasant way to Torah?

Consider this a very innocent question from someone who enjoys talking Torah, is completely non-judgemental of (and can relate to) those who have other interests and subjects, even if they enjoy those subjects more than Torah, and sincerely wants to increase ahavat Hashem and Torah in the world. The context will be when with people who believe in Torah, as this is not a kiruv or chinuch question, but based on the general principle that we should discuss Torah at the table, in general and especially on shabbat, and avoid secular subjects unless we are doing so, occasionally, to help relax and unwind..

Personal tips that have worked, as well as Torah sources are welcome.

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  • Can you define 'secular' and the problem you are trying to avoid at the table? Feb 10, 2023 at 14:41
  • @fulltimekollelguy thanks, see edit
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 10, 2023 at 14:44
  • It really depends on the ages of the people by the seudah. Like if its you and a bunch of people your age, they may get annoyed by you trying to change the subject to Torah (even though you are correct for wanting to), so you'd probably want to do it through integrating it into the conversation, not changing the subject (like when talking about the superbowl, wonder about what the halacha would be on watching the halftime show, and move the conversation from there). If you have little kids at the table you can ask them interesting questions about the parsha, or things like shemiras
    – Kovy Jacob
    Feb 10, 2023 at 20:22
  • halashon (like could you tell your friend x type of thing about someone else), or even tell them an interesting thing in the parsha. You can also talk about shabbos, why Hashem gave it to us, how lucky we are.
    – Kovy Jacob
    Feb 10, 2023 at 20:23
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    @RabbiKaii Everything always comes back to the Torah, to Hashem, to hashgacha, mussar - the question is how receptive the people at the table will be.
    – Kovy Jacob
    Mar 31, 2023 at 1:35

2 Answers 2

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Engaging and fun.
To answer this question, there is a lot of detail missing.
Idle Chatter

Whose house is it? What is your relationship with the people involved in idle chatter? (children/guests) What bothers you about them discussing this around the table? Do you not have an interest in the subjects? Maybe they don’t have an interest in hearing what you have to say. Why do you feel like you need to get involved? Even if it’s your kids and you feel it’s your responsibility, do you think this will help them Enjoy Torah? Changing from Idle Chatter can either be done in advance (before the meal tell the other party you do not want to talk about it (obviously in a respectful manner) or at the table, you can always enjoy a lull in the conversation or tell a story related, and from there move to grounds you feel more comfortable talking about.

Shabbos Table Torah Tips

Rabbi Shimon Russel, in his speeches, discusses how after his children went OTD he had a beautiful time saying Torah at the table. Until then he had said a speech which no one was interested in, and his kids were told all week the same musar/parsha schmooze he was not adding anything to them besides resentment being at the Shabbos Table. After his children went OTD he had an idea each week talking about a scenario A and B were playing game X with the ball when the ball went… how would you rule? The beauty of Judaism is that pretty much any answer you could find a source somewhere, you can then make each of the participants (no matter their age) feel so good by showing who says their point of view. There is no right or wrong.

Similarly, I take the Abarbnel on the Parsha which asks amazing questions, you can just discuss answers to the question. The AlHatorah website is so full of weekly parsha questions and answers that can be used it is amazing. The same with Hashkafa, you can ask light Hashkfik questions at the table.

What does this achieve more than a regular Dvar Torah?
• Everyone can get involved
• Everyone has a right to their opinion • It gets people comfortable with questions
• It brings Torah to the table
• You get to see how those around you think about questions
• You get to spend time with your family

What could be better than this? If you find this worthwhile, I am trying to compile a list of questions like this please fill in this form https://forms.gle/PGGhN39jVpQRiqKz5 with any questions which can be used around the Shabbos table. Rabbi Kaii, Great question as usual!

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    Thank you! I learned a lot from this and want to hear more! I really suffer from this "Torah agenda" business, and I know I annoy a lot of people.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 10, 2023 at 14:54
  • I will bezh write after shabbos Feb 10, 2023 at 15:01
  • Good shabbos tzaddik!
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 10, 2023 at 15:04
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    I agree with this 100% . Torah discussion should come natural not to say a dvar Torah to be yotzei...that annoys ppl
    – sam
    Feb 10, 2023 at 16:42
  • @sam got any tips on how to achieve that?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 12, 2023 at 20:55
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A large part of maintaining the positive environment at the Shabbos table is ensuring that the content of discussion is of the correct ilk. Given the fact that the whole family is together / hosting other people at the meal, it represents a good opportunity to enjoy "שיחות משותפות" – “mutual conversation”.1 A time to give attention to everyone and engage in reciprocal dialogue.

I have found the following approaches help:

1) Ask a question / moral dilemma to the table

A good tactic is to ask an opening question that provides room for interaction and an ensuing table discussion. As the viewpoints are increasingly shared everyone becomes more invested in the dialogue and wants to see what the conclusion is. Halachic dilemmas posed by Rav Zilberstein shlita in his series of books for example, make for a fascinating table discussion.2

2) Tell a story

Everyone loves a good story. Not only do they often keep people engaged, they serve as a wonderful form of mussar or chizuk.

This too is a wonderful tool for chinuch. The Slonimer Rebbe in his Nesivei Chinuch, Chapt 7, p.52 relates:

עלינו להשתמש גם בסיפורי צדיקים מילדותם, ובמיוחד בש"ק בעת הסעודה, שעי"ז תתפתח השאיפה בלב ובנפש הבנים לילך ג"כ ברוח זו, וירגישו כי שקר החן והבל היופי של מצות אנשים מלומדה והחכמות אשר בחוץ תרונה, וישאפו לנקודת אמת ותתעורר בהם אש קודש

We should specifically relate stories about tzaddikim in their youth at the Shabbos meal. In so doing, it cultivates an aspiration in both the heart and soul of our children to try to replicate their actions. They will also feel that there is a sense of falsehood and shallowness in mitzvah observance that one gleans from an external commitment and it will inspire in them the point of truth and awaken in them a holy fire.

3) Quizzes

Providing the tone remains light-hearted and each question is age-appropriate, these question-answer sessions can become a real highlight of the meal. Obviously it should not be a pressure, but a fun way to engage in Torah during the meal.It does not necessarily need to be parsha-based trivia but even yedios klalis (Jewish general knowledge), it can become a very informative and entertaining part of the meal. One should definitely ensure that a number of questions will warrant correct answers as that breeds confidence and makes the experience more enjoyable.

4) A thought based off a nicely sung zemer

The custom of singing zemiros is something that is praised in the Gemara3, and is regarded as a clear expression of love for Hashem. As such, zemiros are a chance to collectively sing together enjoying all sorts of familiar tunes. It is a nice way to break up the meal so that the mealtime scenario does not become too monotonous and instead further enhances the Shabbos meal. I have found that sometime a nicely sung zemer can be used as a good segue into bringing out an idea as those who enjoy singing feel a connection to the song and are resultantly more attentive.


1 A term borrowed from Rabbi Yoel Schwartz in his sefer on Chinuch - Beis Abbah, p.93 (last paragraph on the page).

2 See either his והערב נא series of halachic challenges and solutions based on the weekly parsha (Vol.1, Vol.2, Vol.3, Vol. 4) and their English translation by Feldheim (Vol.1, Vol.2, Vol.3), as well as the What If set produced by Artscroll based off his חשוקי חמד series (Vol.1, Vol.2, Vol.3, Vol.4, Vol.5). Another good option is Rabbi Michoel Fletcher’s series of Do you know… book produced by Menucha Publishers. For example in his Do you know Hilchos Shabbos, he presents a number of everyday questions based round the 39 מלאכות which can be asked to the family to decide what the halachic outcome is, before seeing his answers.

3 Refer to Megilla 12b where Rava explains the difference between how Jews and the non-Jews enjoy their meals, with one of the differences being that the Jews partake of "דברי תשבחות" – “Words of praise (to Hashem)”. Also see Tosafos s.v. מכנף הארץ זמירות שמענו in Sanhedrin 37b which notes how the custom in Eretz Yisroel was to recite the kedusha only on Shabbos. The reason being because the angels have six wings corresponding to the six days of the week singing and the seventh day – שבת is reserved for the Jewish people to engage in singing זמירות.

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    I like the answer never heard of the idea of discussing the zemiros, it's a good idea. do you feel/have sources for there should be a lot of torah being said by the table? Feb 13, 2023 at 14:58
  • @fulltimekollelguy - I think you have to know your audience. Especially if you have kids that are there who don't have the staying power to go the distance and therefore it won't be a pleasant experience for them. Rabbi Dovid Kaplan (a master mechanech) puts it best when he says, Rabbi Kaplan underscores this point by noting that “The children should look forward to the seuda as a delightful family experience, not another school session.”
    – Dov
    Feb 13, 2023 at 15:04
  • That's why I like sharing Torah in a fun way so that it is not an official, formal spot during the meal
    – Dov
    Feb 13, 2023 at 15:05
  • I agree with this 100% and exactly what I try doing. I remember some shabbos meals being annoyed that all that was spoken about was Torah. @rabbikaii in the original question seemed to indicate that one should have as much torah as one can If you have a mekor for this? Feb 13, 2023 at 15:09
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    Thank you, that makes sense! I like your answer! Feb 13, 2023 at 15:34

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